Tag Archives: Anonymity

Is Internet Anonymity Really a Feature?

I think I shall talk about a little something different today, dear heathens. I’ve made abundantly clear in the past that I’m a geek. Of course even if I’d tried to keep that under wraps the subject matter of this blog likely would have spoiled the secret. I don’t constantly scour the net for the latest geeky news, but when something is brought to my attention I keep an eye on it. So I’ve been watching Google+ over the last month; I’ve been keeping my eye on it even though I’ve not had the chance to use it yet, and quite honestly am expecting it to be the disappointment that Google Wave was (I was fired up by the possibilities displayed in the early video presentations, nosed around for months until I finally managed to get an invite… and absolutely no one I knew was using it). So what has been popping up the last few days is the brouhaha over Google instituting a “real name policy” a la Facebook.

I have to be honest; I’m not impressed by the “outrage” this has inspired. Do I believe that people have a right to privacy? I sure do. However, I’m also aware that just by choosing to use the internet you’ve probably given up far more privacy than you realize. If you’re reading this, then various services have already recorded the internet provider/network that you are reading it from. It will tell me what city you’re reading it from. If I was inclined to do so I could use that information to get a little more information about you. I won’t, because I’m not trying to sell you anything, but I could. For that matter, even if I was trying to sell you something (like a book, for example), the only thing I might use that information for is to say, “Hmm… I tend to average X readers from location Y, presuming these people like the blog maybe I should do a convention appearance or book signing in said location, so that they have a chance to talk to me in person should they so choose.”

Given that using a pseudonym doesn’t really provide all that much protection in the digital age, I don’t find most of the arguments for their use all that compelling. I could still stalk you even if you’re not using your real name. Do you really think that not using your real name is going to protect a boss, or an oppressive government regime from finding out who you really are if they put their minds to it? We all leave traces of our “actual” identities even when we’re hiding behind invented personas.

I’ve also heard people claim that Google only wants your real name so they can better target advertising at us… not really. As I’ve already mentioned, your being online, using Google, and browsing the web in general all generates a fuckton of metrics data they can shift through in order to target you with advertising. Using the Google+ circles, pressing the +1 button, and otherwise engaging with their service just generates more data for them to mine. Yet again, it’s not something they need your “government name” for.

I’m also not convinced that hiding behind a digital mask allows people to “express who they really are.” I’ve increasingly become a big believer in owning what one has to say. If I say something that is controversial or offends people, then I say something that is controversial or offends people; by that same tautological token if I lose friends or job prospects because of something I have to say, then I lose friends or job prospects because of something I have to say. This blog has my name attached to it. My twitter has my name attached to it. My e-mail has my name attached to it. My facebook not only has my name attached to it, but features a picture of me wearing Green Lantern underpants on my head, while holding a rubber severed head; and I have more than once posted shit that most people would likely consider to be bizarre and/or offensive. If people don’t like it they are free to, in the words of the Rubberbandits, “fuck right off to Cork.”

There is no meaningful separation between what you see on Facebook, or on this blog, and who I am in person. Given that any number of posts on this blog, indeed I suspect the majority of them, ultimately come down to, and back around to, issues of authentic identity and personhood, and I’ve just pointed out that I’m a big believer in owning what comes out of one’s gob (digital or otherwise), it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I don’t believe in using a pseudonym to express one’s self (even if the pseudonymous persona is not being used to spout ignorant shit without fear of repercussion). Yet even if I didn’t believe any of that, I would find using a pseudonym in the context of social networking to be eyeroll worthy, as it pretty much defeats the bloody point of social networking. If you don’t want your boss, or your mother, to know that you really, really like it when your significant other takes a strap-on to your arsehole… don’t post the shit, or don’t social network with your boss or your mother; your ability to express yourself is only limited in the ways you choose to limit it.

I’m sure people might well be along to tell me that I’ve never been stalked or harassed. One of those is true. I’ve never been stalked. However, as I’ve pointed out above in the digital age a pseudonym is nothing near sure protection against stalking. I have been harassed. Admittedly, it was far less than the harassment that many have been subjected to, but it has happened… more to the point it happened despite using a pseudonym. I also don’t believe in hiding my opinions behind one, even if those opinions wind up biting me in the ass (that would remain true even if I thought one of the potential ass bites was storm troopers kicking down my door).

Does all of this mean I agree with the way that Google shut down accounts without warning? Not so much, and had I been affected by that decision I would likely have been highly annoyed. Am I irritated by their apparently inconsistent application of their “real name” policy. Sure am. Yet I don’t find in myself the slightest feeling of betrayal or outrage that I couldn’t, for example, have my G+ account and Google Profile in my “truly expressive identity,” of Bob the Sodomite Gnome.

Now if you’ll excuse me I just saw some twat compare Google’s wanting your real name to the policies of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Hitler; I need to go vomit in despair now.

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Posted by on July 29, 2011 in Activism, Pop Culture


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